Trope-a-Day: Eldritch Starship

Eldritch Starship: Oh, there are a few.

Take esseli starships, for example. Unlike the link!n-Rechesh (who would be another fine example), they know better than to try to grow fully organic starships, so from outside the hulls and drives look relatively normal. Then you go through the airlock, and it’s all flesh, all the time, with heart-valve doors, neuron-cluster control interfaces, food-secreting glands, recycling intestines, and suspicious organic gurgles everywhere. Mining ships have refinery stomachs and tentacles.

Múrast starships are carved out of ice bodies, with the necessary technology fitted within, and then refrozen. Which is all very sensible when you consider their favored environment, but doesn’t explain why they always carve them into baroque cathedral-like structures rather than anything more utilitarian.

And then there are the seb!nt!at, who as creatures of nuclear forces that dwell deep within stars, do not build their starships out of matter in any conventional sense.

Starfish Aliens build Starfish Starships, basically, just as far as physics will allow.

The tortured structures built by rogue mining drones and other wild mechanicals are about as Gigeresque as it gets, though.



Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Psychology

Bizarre Alien Psychology: Most of them, to one degree or another, however well concealed it may be by translation and commonly agreed protocols. Particularly notable are the aklaknak and embatil, both of whom are collegiate intelligences rather than single consciousnesses; the codramaju and seb!nt!at, who don’t use identity the same way we do; the cusaron and hjera, which are hive minds of different internal topology; the járaph, who are total solipsists; the mezuar, who are forests; the múrast and voctonari, who have five or so minds each; the tennoa, who are obligate utilitarians; and the vlcefc, who have a sessile brain with coordinating independent non-sophont motiles.

Also, of course, much of the point behind uplift – so you can have minds around the place with fascinatingly different points of view.


PDISCLAIMER: All population figures found herewithin should be considered provisional and contested.

Ongoing controversies exist where the correct measurement of population figures is concerned, including:

  • Accounting of clone families;
  • Accounting of fork families, both synchronized (cikrieth) and desynchronized, and the measurement of repeated non-persistent forks;
  • Accounting of group intellects, including both true hive-mind species (such as the hjera and cusaron) and independent Fusions, representing single minds in a multiplicity of bodies, and collective consciousnesses (such as the Eldraeic Transcend), representing multiple independent minds sharing only specific layers; as well as multiple intermediate and overlapping cases;
  • Accounting of collegiate-intelligence species, such as the embatil and aklaknak;
  • Accounting of naturally fork/merge capable species, such as the codramaju;
  • Accounting of biologically casted species in which only a single caste or a subset of castes is sophont, such as the vlcefc, or the gender-based equivalent;
  • Accounting of polysapic species possessing multiple natural minds acting in accord, such as the múrast and voctonari;
  • Accounting for members of species not possessing sophoncy at all points during their lifespan, including but not limited to the majority of r-selected species;
  • Accounting for presently-inactivate species members, including those in long-term cryostasis/nanostasis or data storage;
  • Accounting for the deceased retaining active cognition within technologically-mediated afterlives;
  • Accounting for unconventional forms of identity, such as teleological threads;
  • Location accounting of infomorphs (by processor or by avatar/point-of-interaction location);
  • Legal differences of opinion on the prosophont/sophont boundary;
  • Calibration of population accounting for post-sophont entities, both regarding the appropriateness of categorizing such minds on an equivalent scale with baselines, and inasmuch as high post-sophont minds are capable of generating transient and/or lasting sophont memes in the normal course of cognition;
  • And so forth.

While recognizing that in many cases appropriate answers to these questions is determined contextually (the computation of required life-support capacity obviously is dependent on bioshell-population, for example), the meaning of population in the generalized sense requires the resolution of these questions, many of which are hotly debated philosophical, theological, and/or political topics in many of the Worlds’ polities.

As such, we have chosen to use population figures, in all cases superseding those locally provided, established by the Imperial Grand Survey, whose methodology has the virtue of being consistent, transparent, and well-documented (see publication IGS-1134/P rev. 112).

– from the preface to the Associated Worlds Factbook, Conclave Press

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Language

Starfish Language: Oh, plenty of them.  Esseli native language, for example, is encoded on RNA strands (although fortunately they can and are more than willing to add extra speech organs as required).  Mirilasté language is also notable for using sequences of musical notes as its “phonemes”, and volume and tempo are as linguistically significant as pitch.  Seb!nt!at and various other solar clades, along with the galari‘s techlepathy, tend to use dialects designed to be transmitted electromagnetically and which translate very poorly into audio.  The qucequql and thegas-giant dwelling sssc!haaaouú use bioluminescence and chromatophores to display changing bands and patterns of color as a form of “speech”.  The mezuar communicate chemically, but primarily communicate through direct neural linkage where their roots and branches grow together.  Myneni communication has both a chemical dialect and one based on a very flexible chime-and-whistle audio generation that most more conventional larynxes can’t manage.  (And the uplifted dogs, of course, retain a certain facility for scent-based communication.)  The nsang communicate principally by writing with spinneret material, in two-dimensional ideograms, augmented by gestures for simple or immediate concepts.

Of course, that’s just the first layer.  Once we get into the difficulties of coping with higher-level grammatical quirks of the language: galari is structured like hypertext; digisapience communication is often discrete heavily-internally structured concept formats designed for packet transmission as high-speed data pulses (“here, have a wiki-database of my communication”); the múrast and embatil, as collegiate intelligences, throw out the tree-structure of most languages in exchange for matrix-hashes – and the mirilasté, curiously enough, use something more like a stack – seb!nt!at is a quantum language, in which it’s possible to tell three stories at once and then collapse the meaning at the end of the sentence; native whale, although fortunately not standard dar-ííche, doesn’t have sentences, but rather indefinitely long songs – whose individual phrases are even more long-winded than Entish – in which everyone can talk at once (their audio-processing brain finds resolving the threads of conversation trivial) and, indeed, modify each others’ sentences on the fly…

…and the difficulties of relatively simple issues like non-gender genders, attitudinals (very important, since They Do Not Speak Nonverbal), evidentials, context-dependent or referential concepts, alien metaphors, different methods of categorization or metaphysical perspectives on time, space, and reality – things get very weird very quickly.

Even Eldraeic, which was designed as a lingua franca for a polyspecific polity, suffers from this – since due to its ecumenical nature, it includes a very, very large set of optional grammatical features designed to cover as many of the quirks of the above languages as possible, a mode-switching grammar, three alphabets, an ideographic representation, and multiple isomorphic dialects to be spoken in different environments and with different apparatus, including underwater, over digital communications channels, by color, and even with nothing except pause and interval.  Speaking pidgin Eldraeic (which is to say, Trade) is easy – but speaking many of the more complex forms is very much not, and its capacity for willful obscurantism is generally acknowledged to be unparalleled.

The Heart of Mediocrity (1)

“No-no-no-no-no,” Arúaz Váriz Xinak Laníc Kúran viKoriaz said, hsis heads moving in some agitation.  “Absolutely not, never.  We and our crew cannot be paid enough to take you to Vonis Prime, no.   The kalatri do not like visitors of our kind, no-no-no.  Cause us/us/ours too much trouble, risk, damage.  Cannot pay us/us enough to make that voyage worthwhile.”  Hse peered at the suited figure through the hydrocarbon fog.  “Why do you want to charter a múrast ship anyway, oxygen-breather?  Our icehull has no cabins suited for your air and warmth, and the months to Vonis are a long time to stay in a suit.  Besides, the kalatri would only be more suspicious.  No-no, no answers, not our business.  We and ours will not take you.”

“It is a matter of my cargo, not myself.”  The suited figure tossed a cryp-token into the negotiating area.  “This, for the charter rate to Vonis.  This much again,” as a second token joined the first, “for your trouble, as well as,” a third joined them, “this more, for no further questions.  And as much again, and the cost of repairing any damage, when we return.”

viKoriaz stared at the tokens, counting; nearly four times the going rate for the charter lay in front of hsem already.  “With no further questions, how can we/we be sure we/we will ever return to see that pay?”

“Be sure?  You cannot.  But I assure you that I do not plan to throw my own life away on some foolish plan.  I am merely… in need of fast transportation, and yours is the only ship for charter in Fínar space right now.”

viKoriaz’s minds argued inwardly for a moment, before hse curled back into his oil-bath and took possession of the cryp with a tongue-flick.  “It seems we/we can be paid enough after all, oxygen-breather.  We/we/ours can be ready to depart from midwatch tomorrow.  The Consensus of Múrethch.  Bay 171-RR.”

A Penny for How

“Thus it is said that an eldrae thinks pacing; a dar-bandal, sniffing; a galari, hovering; a kaeth, fighting; a dar-ííche, floating; a sssc!haaaouú, blowing; a mezuar, standing; an esseli, twitching; a codramaju, merging; a kalatri, sitting; a járaph, of itself; a selyéva, basking; a vlcefc, hanging; a spinbright, watching; an embatil, arguing; a múrast, many times; a seb!nt!at, already; a digisapience, continuously; an azayf, afterwards; and a ulijen, too late.”

– Stereotypes of the Worlds, Imperial University of Almeä Press

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Aliens

Starfish Aliens: Most of them.  Digisapiences, of course, have no bodies at all.  The galari are sophont crystal-virus hybrids with inbuilt techlepathy and mechanical psychokinesis.  The codramaju are pseudo-fungoids which can merge, exchange, and separate bodies and minds at will.  The kaeth are vaguely draconic pseudosaurians with a metal-rich biology.  The hydrogen-breathing sssc!haaaouú are fragile collections of membranes that dwell in the upper layers of gas giants.  The myneni are crystal-based carbohydrosilicate amoeboids with built-in chemosynthetic talents.  The mezuar are a network of collectively sophont purplish-blue trees.  (Yes, as sessile as that implies, although the selyéva are green-blue plantimals – non-sessile photosynthetics – who probably most closely resemble walking broccoli.)  The esseli have engineered themselves into brains with manipulating tentacles and customized personal auxiliary organs, and don’t even remember what they used to look like.  (And the link!n-Rechesh are heading that way.)  The qucequql are ammonia-metabolising octopi from a world of nitrogenous oceans.  The múrast would be simple multiheaded snakes, except that they breathe methane, live in oceans of hydrocarbons, and their primary body structures are constructed of ice.  The ulakha are metal-plated, fast-moving lizardoids who think Venerian conditions are just about right for a planet.  The linobir resemble furless, leathery-skinned, hexapedal, hermaphrodite bears.  The shan kari resemble larger versions of Terran mustelids fairly closely, actually, except they prefer to breathe warm methane.  The mirilasté are legged-serpents with skin we would recognize as essentially plastic, who breathe the most astonishingly noxious fluorine-hydrocarbon soup.  The ktelaki are furry arachnids with trilateral symmetry and multi-branched legs.  The seb!nt!at are star-dwelling creatures of plasma and electromagnetic force.  The celsesh are quadrilaterally-symmetric with a fused-barrel body plan, and sensory organs on stalks in lieu of a head.  The embatil are worm/tentacle creatures whose life cycle begins with individuals, but which merge into single creatures as they mature – while transforming a ganglionic into a collegiate intelligence.  The tennoa are chlorine-breathing radial-crabs blessed/cursed with obligate utilitarianism…

And that’s all before we get to uplifts, neogens, and exotic neomorphic bioshells.